July 16, 2011

Most Sleep Problems Go Untreated

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Sleep apnea patients don't report symptoms

(dailyRx News) Sleep is a precious commodity, but for many, daytime fatigue can be a nightmare. About 90 percent of adults visiting a physician on any given day have sleep problems. Sleep apnea is probably to blame.

Only 20 percent of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients ever mention symptoms and sleep difficulties to their physician. Only 23 percent of doctors surveyed for a study on identifying patients with sleep disorders screen for OSA.

"Talk to your doctor about sleep problems or excessive daytime drowsiness."

Instead of using OSA screening measures, most doctors use annual exams and risk factors, such as obesity and diabetes, to identify high-risk patients. Between this and the fact that patients aren't addressing symptoms with their doctors, many people continue to struggle with moderate to severe sleep problems, daytime fatigue, impaired thinking and mood disorders.

Sleep apnea is a chronic condition where breathing becomes shallow or pauses, resulting in awakening multiple times throughout the night. It is caused when the throat muscles relax and airways are narrowed.

People often don't know they wake up during the night, but will report feeling exhausted despite getting a full night's sleep. The condition is serious and can have long-term implications including increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and hypertension.

In an earlier study where 363 adult patients were asked about symptoms, 99 percent reported at least one sleep-related symptom. Fifteen percent said they had fallen asleep while driving. In a study of 1,935 patients, more than half reported excessive daytime sleepiness. Researchers believe that primary care physicians could use better guidelines and approaches to reviewing patients' sleep disorder problems.

James W. Mold, M.D., study author from the department of family and preventive medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, stated in the report that very few adult patients are being diagnosed or treated for sleep problems. "Clearer guidelines and a systematic approach are needed if this is indeed a problem that should be addressed."

Results of the study were published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine earlier this year.
 

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
July 13, 2011

Last Updated:
July 16, 2011